Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Izanami's Choice: Interview With Adam Heine

I had the pleasure of reading this fantastic story, and I had the chance to pick Adam's brain about it. Here is the summary and links if you're interested in reading it. It's out tomorrow!
Samurai Vs. Robots. Progress. Murder. Choice. In 1901, the Meiji Restoration has abolished the old ways and ushered in a cybernetic revolution. Androids integrate into society at all levels, following their programming for the betterment of every citizen, as servants, bodyguards, and bureaucrats. Jinzou are the future. Japan is at the threshold of a new tomorrow! As a ronin steeped in the old ways, Itaru wants nothing more to do with the artificial creations posing as human. But when a jinzou is suspected of murder, he's pulled into a mystery that could tear the nation apart. Malfunction or free will? When is a machine more than just a machine?

So, what made you think "Hey! Androids plus 1900s era Japan! Let's do this"?
Because it's awesome! Why not? (I joke, but honestly most of my stories start with "How awesome would this be?!").

I think my biggest inspiration for blending those two particular things came from one of my favorite webcomics Penny Arcade. There's a series they do sometimes called Automata, in which they've created a noir Prohibition Era world where androids are restricted instead of alcohol. I took that idea and combined it with my love of Japanese history -- because seriously, I can't think of a single era in Japan's history that I wouldn't love to write a story in (as long as I could add robots or mutant powers or something, of course). Izanami's Choice is what came out of it.

Itaru is an interesting fella with serious grudges against droids, or jinzou—how did you build him as your main character?
I don't know how conscious this process was, but in hindsight it went like this. I had a nation in love with droids, so what better protagonist than someone who hates them?
Making him hate them wasn't that hard. The (actual historical) Meiji Restoration of the 19th century left a lot of disenfranchised samurai in its wake. Most samurai moved on, of course -- many of them taking on roles in the new government -- but what of those who didn't? If the last samurai rebellion had been put down by a droid army (instead of conscripted peasants with Western firearms), then some former samurai would naturally blame the influx of droids on their troubles. That's where Itaru came from.
Then, to make it personal, suppose his son was recently killed due to a droid malfunction. That event tears Itaru apart and makes it so he can't even look at a droid without remembering his loss.
Finally, because I'm a monster, I put Itaru in a situation where he had to work alongside a droid in order to get his life back. The story kind of wrote itself after that (not really, but you know).

How did you go about adapting an advanced technology like A.I. and Robotics into a historical setting?
Oo, that was the fun part! Well, fun for me. I'm pretty sure I'm about to bore 80% of your readers.

It emerged out of two ideas. The first came from the classic steampunk novel The Difference Engine: what if Charles Babbage had actually completed his difference engine (basically a mechanical calculator) in the early 19th century? I took that further. What if he had gone on to create more advanced computing machines as well, resulting in early computers 100 years before we actually got them?
The second idea was something I learned studying artificial intelligence in college: the idea of evolutionary programming. To oversimplify it, say there's a problem you're trying to solve -- something that's pretty hard for computers to pull off, like automatic facial recognition. Evolutionary programming would mean creating a bunch of different facial recognition algorithms and competing them against each other. The programs with the best results would then be tweaked and revised a hundred ways, and that second generation would compete against each other again. Repeat this a hundred times until you have a pretty dang good facial recognition program (in theory).
The hard part (well, one hard part) is how to evaluate when a program is "good." But imagine if there were a machine intelligence capable of evaluating -- and then revising -- its own programs and designs. Being a machine, it could then iterate over thousands of designs in the time it would take a human to iterate once.
And if that machine started iterating on itself... that's a robotic singularity -- an artificial intelligence growing exponentially while humans are out on their lunch break.

I found your theme of "Fear Being Dangerous" particularly poignant—I'd love to know more of what you wanted to explore, theme-wise, in this story.
It's funny, because I didn't intend for that theme to be poignant when I wrote it. It just came naturally out of the story. I had written the first draft months before the news was plastered with things like Syrian refugees or banning entire religions from the US.

Several weeks later, I was rereading Izanami's Choice for its first revision, shortly after Donald Trump proposed evicting all Muslims because they might be terrorists. There was one particular line near the end of the novella about "fear of danger being more dangerous than the threat itself" -- a line I had completely forgotten I had written -- and when I read it in light of current events, I thought, "Holy crap. I didn't mean to write a political story!"
But I guess that theme is always poignant to some extent. Fear is a powerful motivator, but it doesn't always make the wisest decisions. I like to think about why the bad guy does what he does. Real people don't think of themselves as the villain, and the most interesting antagonists to me are the ones who genuinely might be right. This world is pretty messed up... What if drastic measures are the only way to fix it?
That idea makes it into a lot of my stories, because there's a part of me that thinks maybe that is the only way to fix it. But then there's another, more insistent part of me that clings to hope and good. That internal struggle is pretty terrible for my sanity, but it makes for good fiction.

Finally, do we ever get more set in this world? The world-building was so fantastic I don't want to leave just yet! 
I certainly hope so! To be honest, it may depend on how well this story does. So hey! If you like the idea of sentient robots in industrial-era Japan then buy my book!
... I'll show myself out.

(Thanks for having me, Natalie!)

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